- Paperback: 353 pages
- Publisher: The Writers' Collective; 1st edition (September 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1932133402
- ISBN-13: 978-1932133400
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 61 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,750,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Phoenix Paperback – September 1, 2004
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"A nice change on a bookshelf filled with WeHo boy toys and Sex and the City knock-offs." -- Metrosource Short List - September 2004
"A tale of love and hate, of passion and pain, The Phoenix is a book no one should miss." -- Blue Iris Journal, September 2004
"Ruth Sims joins the list of women who write about gay men, and do it well." -- Patricia Nell Warren (Front Runner; The Wild Man)Jan. 2005
"The rich descriptions ... makes every page a delight. I guarantee the last few chapters will take you for a ride." -- Queer Factors, September 2004
"Those who enjoy historical fiction will be enthralled..." -- ForeWord Magazine, September 2004
A novel that involves the struggle and yearnings of the human heart, as this does, is for everyone. -- Prairie Flame, September 2004
THE PHOENIX is a masterful work that if ever adapted for television would feel right at home on "Masterpiece Theater". -- William Maltese A Slip to Die For; Thai Died),February 2005
The main characters and supporting cast are fully developed and ones readers will believe. -- Independent Gay Writer September 2004
From the Publisher
Like Tess of the d'Urbervilles or Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White, this Victorian novel is replete with plot twists, years-long detours, providential meetings, villainy, and a great deal of drama. It differs from most other Victorian novels in that the main characters who meet and fall in love are both men, one an adopted son with a dark secret and Dickensian background who has taken on a new identity, and the other an uptight doctor with a strong religious background.
Kit St. Denys, who began life as Jack Rourke, is an up-and-coming actor in London. He has gone from poverty and abuse at fourteen when he fatally stabs his abusive father, to riches when he is adopted by a man who introduces him to the world of the wealthy and the theatre.
Nick Stuart is a troubled man who becomes estranged from his strict, unforgiving father when he goes off to medical school. Although his father is also a doctor, he is unwilling to allow his son to step beyond the small village and turns his back on Nick when he leaves home.
Kit and Nick meet after one of Kit's critically acclaimed performances and, from there, they begin a troubled but madly-in-love relationship that takes many years to resolve. Nick's religious beliefs cause him the deepest pain in loving Kit: "He loved Kit in the way God meant him to love a woman. It was as simple and as soul-damning as that."
While this problem should have been enough to doom their relationship, Kit has demons of his own, never able to shake the nightmares of his father's abuse, nor of the night he left him for dead. And yet Kit and Nick persevere through numerous reversals of fortune, years of estrangement, entanglements, and madness in a snake pit even Joan Crawford would find disheartening.
The author fulfills the implied promise to bring all the subplots together in a logical and satisfying resolution at the end of the novel. The main characters and supporting cast are fully developed and believable, and like any good Victorian novel, the villain is one who can be booed and hissed off stage, without being melodramatic. This is Sims's debut novel, but her imagination and delight in creative wordplay will take her satisfied readers everywhere they want to go.
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Nicholas Stuart grew up in a small village, trained from a young age by his strict and deeply religious father to follow after him as a self-taught doctor to man and animals. Nick, however, breaks from his father when he goes off to university to study medicine. He ends up opening a clinic for the poor in London. After going one evening with old school friends to the theater he finds himself entranced by the actor, Kit St. Denys.
Kit seems worldly and of another class, wealthy and privileged. But he continues to suffer from horrible nightmares that can only be allayed by the company of a male lover at night--and he finds Nick to be the most effective. The two begin a difficult but rewarding relationship. However, their different backgrounds, the immense road-blocks to such a forbidden love and Nick's belief that he is committing an unforgivable sin, and has to choose between Kit and his God, seriously threaten their relationship.
The story covers their lives from childhood to adulthood, although it's primarily told not shown, in the manner of a 19th. century novel, which puts the characters a bit at a distance from the reader. We rarely see into their heads, and as proper Victorians themselves, they are not introspective or aware of psychology as we know it, even though Kit certainly suffers from severe Post-traumatic stress syndrome and teeters on the brink of sanity. Much of the plot concerns their lives apart, their childhood and adolescence and their careers, Nick as a doctor and Kit as the leader of his own theatrical troupe. There is no detailed description of hot sex. It's dealt with mostly off-screen, as is proper with a novel that is more historical fiction concerning the lives and relationship of two men, rather than a Gay Historical Romance.
The characters were generally sympathetic, but I never did feel that close to them. Their love also seemed more like lust and temptation on Nick's part and a need for a balm for his nightmares and for sexual release on Kit's part, primarily since their backgrounds and personalities were so different, and because their thoughts and feelings were seldom revealed--neither to the reader nor to each other (Nick talks more of sinning than love and Kit doesn't tell Nick about his past or the reasons for his nightmares). Still, the tale was interesting and involving enough to read through their lives and adventures and root for them in hopes of them eventually finding happiness.
I will not rehash the plot, as other reviewers have already done so. But, I will say Ruth Sims is an exceptional writer whose work should not be missed. If you are looking for erotica, or M/M romance, this may not be for you. There is sex, but it's not explicit. And, Phoenix does not have the contrived "happily ever after" ending that many romances have (which I also enjoy, and am not knocking here). If you ARE looking for a deeply felt, well-written novel of true love, then buy this book now. Nico and Kit love each other, but their lives, society, and their own insecurities get in the way time and again. Until, finally, they realize that one simply cannot live without the other. While our two heroes do end up together, it is only after much loss and pain, just as in real life. A bittersweet ending, but still sweet.
This novel should be enjoyed by historical fiction fans, as well as M/M fiction fans. Even those who do not agree with the M/M lifestyle can appreciate the magic in the story and Sims' prose. The reviewer who quoted Kit, forgot one line (or it has changed in this revised edition):
Without the sanction of Sociey
Without the sanction of the Church
Without the sanction of God,
Without the sanction even of yourself
I love you.
Obviously, these words have touched a lot of people (me included). How else to explain so many reviewers quoting them here? And, the cover art is beautiful.
I cannot even beghin to tell you how much I enjoyed this novel, but I will try. It is an intelligent, well written, emotionally involving book that so impressed me that while I was reading it I found it was the last thing I thought of as I fell asleep at night and the first thing I thought of whenever I awoke.
The Phoenix tells two interwoven stories. The first follows the life of Jack, a boy from London's slums, who through a tragic set of circumstances is adopted by a wealthy man and grows up privileged and destined to a brilliant career as actor Kit St. Denys. The other is Nick Stewart, who comes from a fundamentalist religious upbringing that plays havoc with his destiny, which is to fall in love with and struggle with his love for Kit. It is a story of true love, conflict, mental agony and redemption.
All his life kit is plagued with nightmares of his father, whom he stabbed in retaliation for his brutality and the death of his twin Michael. Only Nick, a physician, seems able to help him through his torment. In the meantime all of Kit's life experience and fears find their way into his acting and help to make him an internationally renowned thespian. Nick's possessive jealousy drives him away to America where he tries to remake himself as a respectable heterosexual. When Kit's childhood trauma returns to haunt him in a very real way, Nick is back in Kits arms and there to save him. But now others get in the way, and the rest of the novel is about whether these two star-crossed lovers will find their way back to each other.
Sims took a couple decades to write this novel. It started out as the story of an American doctor in the years before the Civil War and his courtship of a beautiful woman involved with the Underground Railroad. Sims tells how she added an English actor as a character, and in the way of good writers' characters, he and the doctor took over the story, and soon the actor and the doctor were the ones courting.
There are so many things I value in this novel. It is a lovely and poignant love story. Unlike too many novels about gay men or lesbians, there is no "explanation" of why the characters are attracted to their own sex. They just are, as Kit says, "and no one knows why." The naturalness of the attraction is what makes this love story so compelling. It is outside influences, not any "deviance" on the lovers' parts, that interferes with the trueness of their love. How refreshing and how important.
Sims knowledge of the theater and its history in Victorian England and the U.S. is astounding and brings authenticity to every page. She peppers the story with historical figures such as Oscar Wilde, Diamond Jim Brady, Maude Adams, and William James in a most non-intrusive way. More than any other quality of the novel I was struck by the utter lack of predictability. Throughout the reading of this long incvolved story I had expectations over and over that over and over did not come about.. keeping me thoroughly in volved and turning pages.
The characters are likewise complex and credible, not only troubled brilliant Kit and troubled earnest Nick, but also Nick's wife Bronwen, both victim and victimizer, who develops into the viper that Kit first discovered she was not, Kit's friends in the thater, Nick's Bowery patients, and Kit's string of lovers who could never take Nick's place.
I highly recommend this novel for its originality, sensitivity, depth, emotional richness, and for its simpley enjoyable and involving story.
It is available in paperback and as an ebook. I purchased the book in order to read it. It is one of those chance purchases for which I will forever thank myself.